Ethical Investments

Ethical buying guide to Ethical Investment Funds, from Ethical Consumer

Ethical buying guide to Ethical Investment Funds, from Ethical Consumer

This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

This guide is part of a special report on Ethical Finance.


This guide includes:

  • ethical and environmental ratings for 19 green and ethical funds
  • Best Buy recommendations
  • how to invest ethically

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Score Ratings

Our ratings are live updated scores from our primary research database. They are based on primary and secondary research across 23 categories - 17 negative categories and 6 positive ones (Company Ethos and Product Sustainability). Find out more about our ethical ratings


Score table

The score table shows simple numerical ratings out of 20 for each product. The higher the score, the more ethical the company.

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Full Scorecard

The Full Scorecard shows the 'black marks' for each product, by each of the 17 negative categories. The bigger the mark, the worse the score. So for example a big black circle under 'Worker Rights' shows that the company making this product has been severely criticised for worker abuses.

Scores start at 14.  A small circle means that half a mark is deducted, a large circle means that a full mark is deducted.

Marks are added in the positive categories of Company Ethos and the five Product Sustainability columns (O,F,E,S,A).  A small circle  means that half a mark is added, a large circle means that a full mark is added.

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Best Buys

as of March 2014

As our ratings are constantly updated, it is possible that company ratings on the score table may have changed since this report was written.


Scoring best is the WHEB Sustainability Fund – although readers should note that it is an environmental fund and does not formally screen on animal testing or human rights criteria.
Also Best Buys with a broader range of ethical criteria are:

F&C’s Stewardship range; Jupiter’s ethical funds; CIS/The Co-operative Investments’ sustainable funds; Standard Life funds; and Triodos Bank’s ethical funds.

Please note that the ethiscore rankings for each fund ranks the whole company group for ethical behaviour.  Where they do not evidence best practice as active shareholders - engaging and voting on controversial issues with the shares they hold - companies lose marks for holdings in their other (non-ethical) funds.  More information is in the wider report below and elsewhere on the website.

Ethical Business
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Special Report

Ethical Issues in the Finance Industry.



Choosing an ethical fund


The score table above ranks 19 of the biggest ethical fund managers in the UK against Ethical Consumer’s usual criteria. We have deliberately ranked the same companies as those covered in the ShareAction 2013 ranking.

It should be noted that Royal London bought The Co-operative Investments in July 2013 as part of its purchase of CIS (Co-operative Insurance Society) which no longer has anything to do with the Co-op Group.

Each fund manager will, on average, run three or four slightly different ethical funds. In addition there are other ethical funds not included in this report – and we cover a couple of newer ones at the end. This all adds up to around 75 possible ethical funds.



ShareAction survey of UK ethical funds


The ethical fund providers were scored on:

  • Transparency: did they disclose enough information to enable customers to make an informed choice and to understand what is being done with their money?
  • Screening processes: the extent to which they ensure that their ethical criteria reflect their customers’ priorities and are rigorously applied.
  • Stewardship and engagement: their commitment to using engagement both to protect the financial value of the fund’s investments and to promote their customers’ ethical values.


The ShareAction survey summary table below ranks the 20 biggest ethical fund providers:


Table: ShareAction survey 20 biggest ethical fund providers

For more information on ShareAction's ranking system, download the full report as a PDF.




Three questions to consider before picking an ethical fund:


1. What are its investment criteria?

Different funds have different negative screens (such as no tobacco or armaments) and positive criteria (such as healthcare or renewable energy) to guide their investment decisions. The EIRIS guide gives a brief overview of funds’ policies on particular issues.

Once you’ve spotted one or two funds that look interesting, you will want to visit their website or call them to look in detail at their prospectus, because criteria change, funds come and go, and the details are more complex than a table can display.

While you are there, you may want to look for a full list of fund shareholdings, to see what a fund’s criteria mean in practice. Some ethical funds will contain shareholdings of controversial multinationals – such as BP or GlaxoSmithKline – and you need to be comfortable with where your money is invested. Although a list of shareholdings will change over the course of a year, ShareAction is quite right in arguing that the days when just a top ten shares list was enough are now gone. You now need to look at a full list.


2. What is the company behind the fund like?

Even though a company offers an ethical fund, it is likely to run a lot of mainstream funds too. With the exception of WHEB, a specialist sustainable investment team, all the companies on the scoretable do this and will follow the traditional investment mantra of spreading risk across all sectors. We have checked their shareholdings and indeed, pretty much the whole table could be filled with marks in every column because of this.

What we have done in this case, is to not apply these investment marks where a company has evidenced best practice at stewardship & engagement through a high rating in the ShareAction ranking.


3. What is its financial performance?

We have included a fund performance table using data here. All the fund mangers in this guide are represented except for WHEB which has not been established long enough yet to have 5 years of performance data.


Table: Fund performance table using


It should be noted that some ethical funds are designed to produce an income and others for capital growth. It should also be noted that you can sign up for most ethical funds using a ‘stocks and shares ISA wrapper’ – which always improves performance assuming you have not used up your annual allowance already. These are the kinds of areas that an Independent Financial Advisor (IFA) may be able to help with (see our guide to Choosing an IFA).




Fund supermarkets


One of the innovations of the last few years is the opening of online fund investment platforms. Indeed some of our recommended IFAs offer an online investment service (e.g ) via the Cofunds platform. For those confident enough to invest in this way, it is possible to top up funds at any time, often with quite small amounts (e.g. £50), and to otherwise buy and sell investments there.

For those still happy with the Co-op Bank, its Smile Fund Supermarket platform has also received favourable reviews.1

New regulations due in April 2014 about charging commission will affect the way the platforms work in the future – with possible user charges being introduced.2



Other funds to note

Triodos: In April 2013, Triodos launched two ethical funds onto the UK market. Although containing the usual (best of sector) mainstream stock such as VW and Nike, Triodos’s excellent transparency and engagement policies would be likely to get them a best rating in the ShareAction review. Triodos is a Best Buy in our Savings Accounts and ISAs guides.

ConBrio BEST Income Fund: Billed as one the UK’s only funds excluding gas, oil and mining, this fund offers investors some confidence that these activities will be avoided. Since this guide was written, ConBrio B.E.S.T. Income Fund has changed its name and its management. It is now called Castlefield B.E.S.T. Income Fund and is managed by Castlefield Partners Ltd. Some of its scores have changed accordingly.



Company profile


Kames Ethical Funds are offered by Kames Capital which is ultimately owned by the Dutch insurance, pensions and investments multinational, AEGON NV.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) released a report in October 2013 entitled 'Don't Bank on the Bomb: A Global Report on the Financing of Nuclear Weapons Producers'. The report stated that Aegon had an estimated USD 888.87 million invested or available for the nuclear weapon producers identified in the report. It was stated that the company held shares in BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and Serco. Furthermore, the company was reported to have bonds with BAE Systems, Boeing, Honeywell International, Rockwell Collins and SAIC. 

Like many of the companies mentioned in this guide, AEGON had shareholdings in thousands of other companies, several of which have been criticised by Ethical Consumer for their environmental and social performance.  These included Monsanto, Chevron and Wal-Mart.

AEGON NV was also one of several companies that received a worst rating for likely use of tax avoidance strategies.  It owned six high-risk and medium-risk company types registered in Bermuda - a jurisdiction on Ethical Consumer's tax haven list.


Want more?

See detailed company information, ethical ratings and issues for all companies mentioned in this guide, by clicking on a brand name in the score table.  

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This guide is part of a special report on Ethical Finance.






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